Production photos by Todd Rosenberg
By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic
I admit I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof before, and it wasn’t a musical that I felt compelled to see. But this fabulous North American premiere at Lyric Opera imported from the Komische Oper Berlin has made me a believer. Every aspect of this classic musical is incredible: the performers, the costumes, the direction, the staging, dancing, and the amazing set. I only wish it was playing longer so more people could see this because everyone should.
The show opens startlingly with a young boy in a bright green hoodie on a modern scooter. (Drake Wunderlich, a very talented 5th grader from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.) He rides across the vast Lyric stage and parks in front of a large door. He locates a violin case in the closet and begins to play a familiar tune. What’s this kid doing here? We hear a knock from inside, and there is Tevye. The connection from present to past is jarring. Is this Tevye’s great-great-great-great-grandson? Certainly the importance of family and yes, “tradition!” is ever-present in Jewish culture. I like to think it’s a nod to Tevye’s family’s resiliency and survival; he will have heirs into the current age despite countless obstacles.
And then it seems the whole town of Anatevka pours onto the stage like an outpouring of clowns from a Volkswagon at the circus…if the clowns were Jewish and in much drabber clothes. The Lyric stage (the biggest in downtown Chicago) is used to full effect with the set which is composed of wood furniture like Grandma’s house has gone onto the market. Rufus Didwiszus is the set designer and Klaus Bruns is the mastermind behind the clever set. Characters are constantly appearing from behind closed armoires, making me wonder if Aslan might make a surprise visit as well. (As an English teacher, I racked my brain trying to pinpoint the symbolism of all those wardrobes and cabinets…”when God closes a door, He opens a window?” like Mother Superior says in Sound of Music? We may be against an obstacle, but another opportunity awaits---we just need the courage to step through? Or does it represent how the Jewish people cannot depend on stability? They always seem to be packing up belongings and moving because of religious persecution?? No matter the significance, it looks cool as hell.)
Alas, loving someone outside the faith is a travesty that Tevya cannot forgive. Chava is dead to him. It’s the one time in the show that I don’t feel sorry for Tevya. He’s being a stubborn dad.
The Lyric Opera Chorus is to be commended for their commanding presence. And I love that a woman conductor, Kimberly Grigsby, led the orchestra.
I didn’t expect the humor of the script, as when Tevya beseeches to God, ”I know we’re the chosen people, but can you sometimes pick someone else?” And Golda asks one of her girls, who doesn’t want to marry an older man with no hair,”You want hair? Marry a monkey!”
Tevya and Golda’s song about arranged marriage “Do You Love Me?” is so endearing. They may have been chosen to be together by their parents, but their love for each other has become genuine.
Another noteworthy song is the Day-of-the-Dead-type number where Tevya must confess to Golda that Tzeitel is no longer marrying the wealthy, older butcher. But he can’t simply admit that, so he stages an elaborate nightmarish dream to break the news to his wife. It’s a hoot with the skulls and surreal quality of the intricate lie.
I overheard a woman in the lobby at intermission proclaiming,” The dancing is stupendous!” Indeed. The “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” number by the three girls with potential suitors is incredibly sweet. The whole production is simply wondrous.
“Anastasia” is another Russian show currently playing downtown several blocks away. The snow in that musical is a fake projection. The “snow” keeps falling continuously in Act II at the Lyric. It’s a cool detail that reveals this was a full-out don’t-hold-back stunning production. It’s one of those truly special shows that will be talked about and remembered for years. Please see it. You’re welcome.
Highly recommended. 4 out of 4 stars ★★★★
Catherine Hellmann loves theater, Chicago, her kids, travel, coffee in the morning, Chardonnay at night, long walks, reading on the train, and Cincinnati Skyline chili. The order of her favorites is in no particular order and is subject to change.
More About Fiddler on the Roof
The North American premiere of a bold new production of Fiddler on the Roof comes to Chicago’s biggest stage September 17 to October 7, 2022. Audiences are invited to experience Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Broadway classic on a musical and theatrical scale only Lyric Opera of Chicago can offer.
A new Fiddler arrives in Chicago. Following the success of the production at its critically acclaimed 2017 premiere at the Komische Oper Berlin, innovative director Barrie Kosky ties this version of Fiddler on the Roof to his Jewish ancestry and heritage, centering tradition in every aspect of his thrillingly theatrical production. Accomplished conductor Kimberly Grigsby (Broadway’s Spring Awakening and Flying Over Sunset) makes her Lyric debut revitalizing the celebrated music of Fiddler with the incomparable Lyric Opera Orchestra.
The traditional Fiddler you know, but seen and heard like never before. More than 50 years after its premiere, Fiddler on the Roof remains a story that still resonates with audiences of today. While the musical has always explored themes of tradition, family, and love, Kosky’s brave direction offers an even closer look into how communities like Anatevka are still struggling in today's world. This widely acclaimed production is supported by a massive ensemble of nearly 100 musical and dramatic artists, paving the way for audiences to enjoy another boldly unique musical theater experience that has become a Lyric Opera of Chicago signature.
A miracle of miracles! Experienced Broadway performers Steven Skybell and Debbie Gravitte make their Lyric debuts as Tevye and Golde. Skybell, who won the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding performance by a lead actor as Tevye in the 2018 Yiddish production in New York, brings his exceptional capacity for this role to Lyric. The accomplished cast also includes Glencoe native Lauren Marcus in the role of Tzeitel in her Lyric debut. She’s joined by Broadway veteran—and Lyric newcomer—David Benoit in the role of Lazar Wolf. Joy Hermalyn rounds out this stellar lineup of Lyric debuts as Yente.
The other talented singing actors in the cast include Austen Bohmer as Hodel, Maya Jacobson as Chava, Drew Redington as Motel, Adam Kaplan as Perchik, Michael Nigro as Fyedka, Liliana Renteria as Shprintze, Omi Lichtenstein as Bielke, Jackson Evans as Mendel, Tommy Novak as Avram, Steven Strafford as Mordcha, Bill McGough as the Rabbi, William Brown as the Constable, and Melody Betts as Grandma and Fruma Sarah.
Tradition comes alive with a world-class creative team. Lyric’s Fiddler on the Roof features Rufus Didwiszus as set designer and Klaus Bruns as costume designer, both in their Lyric debuts, along with the lighting design of Diego Leetz skillfully recreated by Marco Philipp in a Lyric debut for both designers. Otto Pichler’s original choreography is masterfully recreated for Lyric by Silvano Marraffa. The robust forces of the Lyric Opera Chorus bring the village of Anatevka to life under the steady leadership of Lyric’s chorus master Michael Black—culminating in a musical production that is as wholly reimagined as it is filled with endless talent.
Shout l’chaim from the rooftops, with 11 chances to see Fiddler on a scale only Lyric Opera of Chicago can produce. Through Joseph Stein’s book, Jerry Bock’s music, and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics, audiences become a part of Tevye’s family with this timeless tale of the fragility of love, community, and tradition.
There are 11 performances of Fiddler on the Roof: September 17, 18 matinee, 22, 23, 24, 28 matinee, 29 matinee, 30, and October 2 matinee, 6, and 7, 2022.
For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing health and safety protocols, visit lyricopera.org/safety
One of the world's leading opera directors, Barrie Kosky is celebrated from Vienna to Paris and from Bayreuth to London, where his new Ring cycle will take the stage at the Royal Opera starting next year. When his production of Fiddler on the Roof premiered at Komische Oper Berlin in 2017, international critics heralded the arrival of a completely original and unique experience created from this revered, Tony Award-winning masterpiece. "Songs many of us have heard our whole lives sentimentalized...are given weight and take on deep meaning," raved the Los Angeles Times. Experience a Fiddler like no other, with the full power of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus as well as a production that is both grand in scale and intimate in its power to bring you directly to the heart of the village of Anatevka. Join us as Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters experience the real joys and sorrows that have made this meaningful work an enduring part of our culture.
Please note, Fiddler on the Roof will not have an at-home streaming option.
Language: Sung in English
Running Time: 3 hours 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Location: Lyric Opera House
Lyric’s presentation of Fiddler on the Roof is generously made possible by Lead Sponsor The Negaunee Foundation with additional support from Production Sponsors the Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, The Zell Family Foundation, Marlys A. Beider, The Davee Foundation, Invenergy LLC, The Harris Family Foundation, Randy L. & Melvin R.* Berlin and Ethel & William Gofen.
Lyric Opera of Chicago thanks its Official Airline, American Airlines, and acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is committed to redefining what it means to experience great opera. The company is driven to deliver consistently excellent artistry through innovative, relevant, celebratory programming that engages and energizes new and traditional audiences.
Under the leadership of General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, Music Director Enrique Mazzola, and Special Projects Advisor Renée Fleming, Lyric is dedicated to reflecting, and drawing strength from, the diversity of Chicago. Lyric offers, through innovation, collaboration, and evolving learning opportunities, ever-more exciting, accessible, and thought-provoking audience and community experiences. We also stand committed to training the artists of the future, through The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center; and to becoming increasingly diverse across our audiences, staff, programming, and artists—magnifying the welcoming pull of our art form, our company, and our city.
Through the timeless power of voice, the splendor of a great orchestra and chorus, theater, dance, design, and truly magnificent stagecraft, Lyric is devoted to immersing audiences in worlds both familiar and unexpected, creating shared experiences that resonate long after the curtain comes down.
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For more information, visit lyricopera.org/newseason.